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Taking the scenic route from Bangkok to Koh Samui

Ask the Expert A reader's query about getting to Koh Samui unearths some amazing travel bargains.

Is August a good time to visit the island of Koh Samui in Thailand or will I be swept away by the monsoon rains? What's the best way to get there? I was planning on flying direct from Bangkok, but is there a cheaper option?

While the best time to visit Koh Samui is from December to February, August is pleasant, too. Unlike Bangkok, the island has its rainy season from September to November. Remember, though, that this is Thailand - it can get quite hot and humid at times, with an occasional thundershower to liven things up.

Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) has several direct flights to Koh Samui daily. A return flight costs from 7,020 Thai baht (Dh846), including taxes. Thai Airways (www.thaiwairways.com) flies from 13,120 baht (Dh1,582) return, including taxes.

An inexpensive option is to fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani, a city on Thailand's south-eastern coast and a bus- and ferry-ride from Koh Samui. A return flight with Air Asia (www.airasia.com) to Surat Thani from Bangkok costs from 2,700 baht (Dh325), including taxes.

From the airport, catch a minibus or van (about 150 baht [Dh18] per person) for the one-and-a-half-hour ride to Donsak Pier, east of Surat Thani. Ferries depart from the pier every half-hour for Koh Samui (150 baht [Dh18] per trip, per person) and the neighbouring island of Ko Pha Ngan. The boats to Koh Samui sail through the Samui islands, so not only do you save money but you get to journey along an extremely scenic route. Book tickets at the Raja Ferry office (00 66 77 471 151) outside the Surat Thani Railway Station or online at www.rajaferryport.com. If you aren't planning to spend a night in Surat Thani, don't take an evening flight - the last boat from Donsak leaves at 7pm.

One of the best ways to travel to Koh Samui is by the overnight train from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok to Phun Phin in Surat Thani. At Hua Lamphong, you have the option of purchasing a "combined" ticket, which includes the train fare, a bus transfer to Donsak Pier and an express boat ticket. The journey by train takes about 11 hours; add another two hours for the bus and ferry to Koh Samui. Combined one-way tickets cost 1,200 baht (Dh145) for first class and 800 baht (Dh95) for second class (visit www.thairailways.com for more information and timetables). Taking a day train, of course, means that you'll end up missing the last boat to Koh Samui.

The cheapest - and longest - way from Bangkok to Surat Thani is by bus. It's around an 11-hour, 650km road trip from Sai Tai Mai, or the Southern Route Bus Terminal, on Borom Ratchachonnani Road. First-class fares cost 346 baht (Dh42) per trip. Non-airconditioned buses cost 192 baht (Dh23) per trip.

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